How to memorize the phrases

I keep going on and on about how important it is to memorize phrases and other pieces of language in order to become fluent. But I realize that I haven't written much on how you memorize something.

Here's the secret to memorizing phrases: TRY to remember them.

It sounds so simple, and in fact it is. But I think that a lot of people forget the "trying" part. I know that I often do. Sometimes I try to study things by looking at them over and over. Sometimes I wish that I could memorize phrases in a foreign language just by listening to them on my iPod again and again. Sometimes I imagine that I can memorize words by going over my notes and re-organizing them into different groups.

These methods aren't totally horrible. If I listen to a phrase over and over again, I will eventually recognize it. But that's not the fastest way to memorize. And it's not the best way, either. Because recognizing something and being able to pull it out of your memory are two different things. If you want to be able to use the language you learn, you need to practice pulling it out of your memory.

So here are some of the best ways to practice remembering phrases. I'll start with the simplest and then go to the most powerful.

  • Think about them! I told you this would be simple. All you need to do is close your eyes and try to remember the things that you've learned. Pick a few times throughout the day to do this, and try to remember as many of the phrases you've learned as possible. The beauty of this method is that you don't need a computer, an iPhone, a book, or anything!
  • Use flashcards. We all know flashcards, right? You write a question on one side and the answer on the other side. Flashcards work great for quizzing yourself. But what do you put on each side? My suggestion is to write the situation on the front. You can also draw a little picture to represent that scene, or a phrase or description in your native language. Then on the back, you write the phrase. Doing it this way will make sure that you're practicing remembering the phrase, not just recognizing it.
  • Start using an SRS. SRS is a type of software. It's like flashcards, but it also keeps track of when you last saw each card and tries to show you each card at exactly the right time, just before you start to forget it. It's a really powerful way to help you remember more than you can with other methods. My favorite SRS is Anki. It's a little difficult to use sometimes, but it's possible to set it up to use at your home computer, on the web, and on an iPhone.

What other memorization methods you use?

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